Employee health and wellbeing – don’t ignore dental and oral health

A poll of 2,000 people by the British Dental Health Foundation has found that not one was able to name the four main risk factors for mouth cancer, highlighting the value of including education around dental and oral health within work-based health promotion campaigns.

OH-Assist-oral-health-smiling-womanThe poll asked more than 2,000 people if they could name the four main risk factors for mouth cancer, namely smoking, drinking alcohol to excess, poor diet and the human papillomavirus (HPV), often transmitted via oral sex.

Widespread ignorance

Remarkably, not a single respondent was able to name all four and a large number mistakenly thought bad oral health was responsible for the disease. Other answers included stress, smog, anaemia, snoring and even high blood pressure.

The foundation has highlighted that cases of mouth cancer exceeded 7,500 in 2012, and the number of cases is expected to rise further, despite public awareness-raising drives such as November’s Mouth Cancer Action Month.

As Dr Nigel Carter, chief executive of the foundation has put it, there is clearly still a long way to go when it comes to raising awareness of mouth cancer.

“For no-one to be able to correctly identify what the four causes of the disease are is both surprising and worrying. The Mouth Cancer Action Month campaign continues to play a crucial role in educating the public about the disease, and it’s clear from the survey we still have some way to go.

“Tobacco use and drinking alcohol to excess can increase the risk of developing mouth cancer by up to 30 times. Experts forecast the human papillomavirus (HPV) will overtake smoking as the principle cause of the disease within the next ten years, and almost half of cases in the UK have been linked to poor diet.

“Ulcers that do not heal within three weeks, red and white patches and unusual lumps or swellings in the mouth should not be ignored. Our advice is clear – if in doubt, get checked out,” he adds.

OH-Assist-oral-health-dentist-appointmentEarly diagnosis

Indeed, if caught early, the chances of surviving more than five years is around 90%, according to dental insurance company Denplan, which sponsored the research, but falls to 50% for cases caught later.

For employers, offering screening or dental benefits is clearly one option. But it’s possibly even simpler than that – there can be value in just encouraging employees to go for regular dental checks or just making the point it makes sense to be registered with a local dentist,

The fact of the matter is dental and oral health is something that can often get overlooked or ignored, in part because of natural squeamishness plus the lack of access through the NHS.

In the current economic climate it’s not necessarily going to be realistic for employers to offer an alternative access to screening or treatment, but where employers can make nevertheless make a real difference is in helping to tackle apathy and ignorance (wilful or not) around this important health issue.

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Posted in Occupational health by OH Assist on the 24th January 2014

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